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Developing your digital talent pool with The Open University in Scotland

Suzanne McQuade, Business Relationships Manager, The Open University

Recently, I jointly delivered a live webinar on the digital skills gap with my colleague Jane Dickinson – Digital Skills Lead for The Open University – in collaboration with the Centre for Engineering Education and Development (CeeD).

Between us, we discussed the latest statistics emerging from UK business about the threat posed by the digital skills shortage and outlined five opportunities that The Open University (OU) provides to help businesses to upskill and reskill their workforce.

The digital skills gap in Scotland

Equipped with an expert insight into the latest research on digital skills, Jane discussed the growth in IT recruitment, the challenge of recruiting IT-qualified candidates and the negative impact the digital skills gap has on Scottish business.

  • In 2019, digital skills shortages cost Scottish businesses £361m
  • 74% of Scottish businesses recognise that the digital skills gap has a negative impact on their profitability
  • 50% say it impairs their ability to implement new or cost saving technologies
  • 30% say they struggle to recruit due to a shortage of IT-skilled applicants

(Business Barometer, 2019Bridging the Digital Divide, 2019).

With IT and digital roles accounting for 10% of the jobs advertised in the UK – and 13,000 new digital jobs being created in Scotland every year (Burning Glass Labour Insights Quarterly Survey; Skills Development Scotland) – current training methods are failing to keep pace with the growing demand for IT professionals.

This is not good news for the 20% of Scottish businesses expecting to recruit digital talent this year (ScotlandIS Scottish Technology Industry Survey, 2020).

Technology has proved integral to business continuity during the pandemic and is expected to be a key driver of post-lockdown recovery. This means demand for qualified candidates – which is currently experiencing a dip due to lockdown – is predicted to increase.

Reskilling in a competitive recruitment market

With a shortage of qualified candidates, upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce is an increasingly attractive option for Scottish businesses, and one in which the OU is proud to be playing a leading role.

The Open University in Scotland is the most popular provider of flexible undergraduate study in Scotland – 18,000 students are currently enrolled. Three-quarters of those students are balancing their studies with full- or part-time work, and approximately 1,000 are sponsored by their employer, and many more employees are accessing funding and degree-level apprenticeships to study with us.

Whilst most people know and recognise the OU brand, many businesses don’t realise that we can work directly with them to develop innovative solutions to address their skills challenges. In fact, over 2,400 public, private and third sector organisations currently use the OU for learning and development programmes tailored to their business needs.

We work in collaboration with industry, professional bodies and employers to design forward-looking training that helps businesses build their workforce of the future.

Our focus on industry-relevance and professional practice means our learners are encouraged and equipped to apply their learning to their work straight away, and businesses benefit immediately from their employees’ new knowledge, skills and behaviours.

Management skills for digital transformation

As the pace of technological change intensifies, IT skills won’t be enough to guarantee success. Businesses will also need a lifelong learning culture that embeds ongoing digital skills development.

Alongside the skilled IT specialists driving forward innovation, businesses will need leaders who understand the critical nature of digital transformation, as well as managers with project- and people-skills to deploy digital initiatives on the ground.

We therefore encourage businesses to think beyond the immediate digital skills shortage and also consider training that can help their workforce adapt to the new working reality of digital disruption and change.

Removing barriers to learning and development

The OU is uniquely placed to deliver effective learning opportunities to businesses of all sizes, as well as individuals from a range of backgrounds. With learners and businesses working with us from the Borders to the Shetland Isles, we’re known for our flexibility, accessibility and geographic reach.

Our technology-enhanced distance learning platform means training is accessible from anywhere in the world, and scalable from a single learner in a small business to a large organisation training multiple learners across numerous sites.

And thanks to our commitment to accessibility, there are no academic barriers to enrolling on many of our undergraduate qualifications either. A fifth of new undergraduates join us without standard university entrance qualifications. This opens up opportunities for learners traditionally excluded from advancement by their past academic performance.

In-work training opportunities with the OU

Employers can benefit from a wide choice of formal and informal learning programmes with The Open University in Scotland.

From microcredentials and individual modules for CPD, to flexible undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications to unlock employees’ potential longer-term.

The OU’s OpenLearn platform provides 1,000+ courses and learning resources free of charge.

Our flagship Open degree is a flexible modular qualification that allows individuals and businesses to tailor a degree to address specific skills gaps.

Microcredentials are short intensive courses designed to fill industry skills gaps fast.

Graduate apprenticeships are integrated work-based learning programmes, fully funded by Skills Development Scotland.

We also offer a range of other flexible qualifications that allow learners and business build skills at a pace and depth that suit their needs.

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